Mount Clemens: Wandering through History…

10 Jul

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Residing on the banks of the Clinton River is the city of Mount Clemens; incorporated in 1879 this four square mile city is the county seat of Macomb County. If you are not familiar with the area, you may have heard of the city; it was most famous for its mineral baths. That’s right, back in the day, beginning about 1873, Mt Clemens once had 11 bath houses and many hotels that played host to the rich and famous. Celebrities such as Clark Gable, Mae West, Babe Ruth and Jack Dempsey, along with William Randolph Hearst and the Vanderbilt family all flocked to the city for the well-known baths. In the 20’s the industry began to decline and the Great Depression took its toll on “Bath City”. Today only one of the original bath houses remains; now the Henry Ford Macomb Hospital, they continue to offer the healing baths using mineral water retrieved from an aquifer beneath the hospital. In about 1880 a new industry launched; roses. Yes, Mt Clemens was home to 10 major Rose growers. With over 30 acres under glass, it was once known as the Rose capital of the US. I can remember seeing the greenhouses from the time I was a kid until maybe a decade ago. Metro Detroit is filled with interesting stories and places if you just take the time to look.

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The first stop on our agenda for the day was the Crocker House Museum located on Union Street. The Italianate house-turned- museum was built in 1869 by the city’s first mayor Joshua Dickinson. The home’s furniture and decor reflect the mineral bath era in Mt Clemens.  Our guide shared stories of the Crocker family, artifacts and photos bring the stories to life. Exhibits display city mementos through the decades including pieces from Mt Clemens Pottery.  The photos of the bath houses are amazing! Items like bathrobes, dishes, and souvenirs along with guest registries from the hotels remind us of what a huge industry this was for the area. It’s great to be able to see these cool vintage pieces of the past. The house is quite lovely; you are able to tour both floors and see what life was like then. Space in the basement is used for classes, lectures and themed afternoon teas put on by Macomb County Historical Society. They also host an annual Garden Walk and Cemetery Walk. You do not have to be from the area to really enjoy your visit, there’s a lot of interesting history here. 

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The Anton Art Center is housed in the historic Carnegie Library building erected in 1904.  The center hosts rotating exhibits throughout the year so it’s nice to stop in once in a while and check out the current artists on display, which is what brought us here. The space on the first floor is the Main Gallery, Fiber Hybridity was the current show, there were some cool pieces. The second floor is the Community Gallery and hosts shows by three community groups. The Art Center is more than a gallery; they offer educational programming, community outreach and special events. I love the gift shop; pieces are sold on consignment so the selection is always new. Keep this place in mind for  Christmas shopping, they have a wonderful Christmas Market. If you are interested in honing your artistic skills they offer youth and adult classes in painting, fabric arts, ceramics and jewelry making.

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Lunchtime had arrived; throughout the day several people had recommended the Engine House Bar and Grill on Cass by the railroad tracks. Not ones to turn down good advice, the restaurant was our next stop. The building has been around since the early 1900’s; beginning life as a grocery and meat market, it seems it has always sold food. As we walked inside it had a neighborhood feel to it as though the waitresses could tell you everyone’s name and their favorite food or drink. Sitting at a high top table we looked through the menu; lots of appetizers, salads, sandwiches, and entrees. The pizza came highly recommended so we ordered  the Classic. The Tigers were on the large screen TV as friends gathered together to watch and have a drink. Our pizza arrived; not only did it look good, it was delicious! Service is friendly and prices are fair making it a great place to stop in for a meal or a drink.

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Across the street on Grand Ave is the Michigan Transit Museum, formerly the home of Grand Trunk Western Railroad Depot. Named a Michigan State Historic Site and on the National Register of Historic Places, this one story Italianate structure opened in 1859. This was when GTWR opened their Port Huron to Detroit line traveling through Mt Clemens. The interior has been transformed into a museum complete with a waiting area and a re-created ticket office. Floors and ceiling are hardwood, walls are wet plaster with wainscoting. There is stuff everywhere to look at; take the time to really look around, volunteers are available to answer questions. The depot’s claim to fame is the fact that the railroad hired 12-year old Thomas Edison as a newsboy and candy salesman on the Port Huron to Detroit run. The story goes like this: In 1862 while the train was on lay over, young Thomas Edison pulled a 3-year old boy out of the path of an oncoming train, the boy was the station agent’s son. As a reward for the rescue the agent, J.V. Mackenzie, taught Edison train telegraphy and operation. Sometime later Mackenzie joined Edison at his Menlo Park Lab. Seriously, this town is full of fascinating history. 

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One of the rules of summertime is: eat ice cream. Right? Luckily for us there’s a little place not too far from the museum to get some. Before we get there I have two words for you: Cappuccino Crunch.  At one time several small dairies occupied space in the city. In 1923 John Miller bought out several smaller creameries and opened Miller Bros Creamery. Miller Bros first made ice cream in 1937 and opened several company stores, eventually selling the business to the London Dairy in 1971.  Today, the charming little store on Dickinson Street is owned and operated by 87-year old Irene. She began her career working for Miller Bros in 1955, became store manager in 1962, and finally, bought the store from London Dairy in 1982…… she never misses a days work. The old-fashioned brick building with curved front windows and original Miller Bros sign screams kitsch. Inside it is a combo mini-mart and ice cream store. We headed directly for the ice cream counter that now serves Hershey Ice Cream (not related to the Hershey candy company) and each ordered cappuccino crunch, Kris got a cone, I got a dish. The cappuccino flavored ice cream is smooth and creamy with tunnels of dark chocolate fudge running through it. The perfect bite is a combo of ice cream, fudge and a chunk of crunchy toffee that is scattered throughout. Trust me, try it. Though hardly a big city Mt Clemens has enough to provide you with a full day’s entertainment.  

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5 Responses to “Mount Clemens: Wandering through History…”

  1. Tereza July 10, 2012 at 12:28 pm #

    When I was a little kid my family and I always used to ride our bikes up to Miller Bros. for the ice cream – introduced me to Superman! Although I think nowadays, the Cappucino Crunch sounds much better 🙂

  2. Patrick Farley April 4, 2016 at 7:27 pm #

    MT Clemens OMG, as a community we must restore it , wow, being without a car has been the greatest Gift of all. So many inspiring things you pass every day, in PLAIN SIGHT, magic. I am speechless…

  3. JOAN BEYNE HUNTER PUDVAN April 19, 2016 at 1:29 am #

    I’M GLAD TO FIND YOU. MY MAT. GRANDMOTHER WAS FROM M.C. AND MY GREAT AUNT MARY, HER SISTER, LIVED WITH US IN MPLS. WHEN SHE WAS OLDER. SHE WAS BORN IN 1858,,,NAME, MARY BEYNE MARRIED TO ROBT. BEARD\SLEY LATE IN LIFE. I THINK THERE IS STILL A BEYNE STREET THERE ON THE OLD FARM LAND BY THE CLINTON RIVER??? THEY WERE FRIENDS OF CROCKERS, HAD A HORSE NAMED FANNY…I SENT SOME STUFF TO THE LIBRARY ABOUT THEM YEARS AGO…JOAN BEYNE HUNTER PUDVAN

  4. Linda Stubbs Pierce September 10, 2016 at 8:49 pm #

    My aunt & uncle (Ruth Slush Stubbs & Dr. Clayton T. Stubbs) lived in the old Matthew Slush mansion “Whitehall” until it burned down on 12/19/1963. It was located at 125 So. Gratiot, but I guess the streets have all been moved around and the actual location is now lost. I think the corner was Church & Gratiot and Walnut was behind the estate. My other aunt, Frances Stubbs lived in what was a servants house (a duplex) next to the estate that faced Walnut. Frances was Clayton’s older sister. I have a number of pictures, but I don’t see a place to post them here. Wonderful memories.

  5. Joan Beyne Hunter Pudvan September 10, 2016 at 10:45 pm #

    Wonderful to read all the other comments about Mt. Clemens. I was there only once, 1939,when i was a little girl, visiting another great aunt, Gertrude Beyne, who was married to a milkman and they still lived in Mt. Clemens. We left Aunt Mary there to visit her sister while we went on a trip further away. I think it was the last time they saw one another. Most of the big family of Beyne’s either moved away or died rather young. Wilhemina, aka”Minnie” was my maternal grmo. who died of “pernicious anemia”, they said, around the time of WWI. Aunt Mary said she was closest to bro.,Gus, who also died youngish, i think of TB. They were the oldest of many chlldren. I hope to visit Mt. Clemens again before long and visit the Historical Society records. i treasure that part of my family history.

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